Among the many dilemmas Christians face while trying to live “in but not of” this world is the question of whether it’s appropriate to pursue pleasure. Especially in affluent areas of the world, pleasure is easy—and often cheap—to come by. We can become so bloated by the glut of entertainment and recreational activities available to us that we make ourselves sick, both figuratively and literally.
It’s no surprise that the Bible gives ample warnings about mindlessly running after pleasure. But is enjoyment always wrong? Is all pleasure bad? Isn’t there any room in God’s call to holiness for us to enjoy the life He has blessed us with? What about having hobbies? Hanging out with friends?
Although there isn’t a chapter in the Bible titled “Paul’s Teachings on Sports” or “The Parable of the Quilter,” Scripture is generous with guidelines on these issues.
Let’s first look at the cautions God gives us regarding the pursuit of pleasure. Read Proverbs 20:13 and Proverbs 21:17 and 1 Timothy 5:6. Each of these passages warns that poverty is the inevitable result of laziness and hedonism. Someone who lounges about all day watching TV, playing video games, gossiping on the phone, or gorging on food instead of being productive will eventually pay a price. Remember that poverty can take different forms; it may mean financial ruin but can also include bodily illness, broken relationships, and loss of joy. Physical pleasure, when pursued in isolation from other positive aspects of life, quickly reduces to distinct displeasure.
Isn’t there any room in God’s call to holiness for us to enjoy the life He has blessed us with?
Read Luke 8:14. When Jesus told the parable of the sower in Luke 8, He listed pleasure among the thorns that can choke the seed of the gospel in a person’s life. Worries and troubles aren’t the only things that distract spiritually; riches and pleasure can thwart us, too.
If we allow ourselves to be led into sin and selfishness at the expense of spiritual growth, pleasure has clearly become our god. Yet can a Christian play and enjoy opportunities to be creative, active, social, or restful?
Read 1 Timothy 6:17. Scripture tells us that God “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” The Lord does want us to experience enjoyment. Contrary to popular skepticism, God is not a grumpy old schoolmaster ready to rap our knuckles if we so much as giggle, let alone do something fun. Our heavenly Father created a world bursting with wonders that delight our senses, stir our souls, and even make us laugh. He also created us with the capacity to enjoy pleasure. And think about Jesus: Though Scripture doesn’t come right out and say He grinned, isn’t it hard to imagine Him not smiling when He attended a wedding, healed the lame and blind, and returned people like Lazarus to life (Mark 8:23-25, John 2:1-2, John 5:6-9, John 11:38-44)?
The secret to true and guilt-free pleasure is to first discern and reject what masquerades as pleasure-giving and then to learn to enjoy what is genuinely beautiful and pleasing. Read Psalm 37:4-5 and Matthew 6:33. When we start by delighting in the Lord and seeking His will, joy, contentment, and fulfillment follow swiftly. If we can derive pleasure from simple things—and gratitude because we see them for the gifts they are—how much more will we be able to enjoy engaging in our favorite activities and hobbies? We can experience joy when we are . . .
1. Right with God (i.e., free of guilt or fear).
2. Right with others (i.e., free of anger or hatred).
3. Using our gifts and talents to glorify God and to bless others.
• Consider for a moment how you’ve been created in God’s image. What do these verses tell you about whether God can and does experience pleasure? Haggai 1:8, Luke 10:21, Zephaniah 3:17
• With regard to pleasure, what do the following verses tell you about God’s will for believers? Psalm 16:11, Psalm 21:1-6, Psalm 37:3, 11, 19, Ecclesiastes 2:26, Ecclesiastes 5:19, Philippians 4:4, 8-9
• Think of a few activities that give you pleasure, whether physical, emotional, or mental. How does the short-term enjoyment you get from those activities compare with the long-term benefits?
• Pray that God will help you discern whether the things that give you pleasure are also pleasing to Him.
• When you spend time in activities you enjoy, ask God to reveal if you’re being:
1. Submissive—Are you willing to forgo an activity if He calls you to do something more important or urgent?
2. Self-controlled—Does that activity take more of your time, attention, and energy than it should?
3. Financially responsible—How much of your resources do you spend on this activity? Would you be a better steward of those resources by using them elsewhere for God’s glory?
4. Generous—Do you let others enjoy your hobby by inviting them to participate with you? Do you bless others by sharing with them the outcome of your activity?
5. Humble and modest—Do you boast about your activity to the point that others feel awkward, tempted, or inferior?
• Read through all of Psalm 37 and write down your observations in two lists—first, what displeases the Lord (and ultimately harms us), and second, what pleases Him (and ultimately us).
• Keep mental track of (or journal about) the time you spend on leisure activities this week. Make a note of what left you feeling empty or guilty and what brought you true pleasure and joy.